TAB HUNTER

TAB HUNTER MARQUEE TAB HUNTER ( VI )

That’s right…THE  Tab Hunter! And even got to ask him three questions. The Village East on Manhattan’s East 11th Street and Third Avenue was showing a very limited run of the new documentary: “TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL” so I made the trek into the East Village to see it. I thought I was just going to watch this boring doc and really just see an old movie star from the 1950’s and get my classic films-fix filled.

Well I got so much more.

FOSTER HIRSCH

Film historian Foster Hirsch came out and introduced the film and said there’d be a  Q & A with star Tab Hunter after the screening and a more charming man we would not ever see. He was absolutely right.

The documentary was very well-done. Produced by Allan Glaser there contained a ton of archival footage of Tab Hunter’s career to let you see just how big a movie star he was. I mean, he was EVERYwhere. They interviewed some ladies who knew him in high school, who said that Hunter (growing up as Art Gelien) was so drop

TAB HUNTER ( I )

dead gorgeous, he literally had problems walking down the hallway from class to class. He would be constantly swarmed by girls; even having to duck into an empty classroom and locking the door. An exaggeration? Folks, I kid you not. The photos of him as a young teen are breath-taking. Yes..California blonde, blue-eyed, tanned skin. School got so bad for him that he lied about his age and joined the Coast Guard. ( He was later discharged when they found out he was underaged ). He had an older brother whom he idolized, and it was his brother who always pushed him out from his introverted shell. Both boys grew up witnessing an abusive marriage. Their mother soon divorced and raised her sons as a single parent, holding down several jobs to survive.

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He was discovered by actor Dick Clayton ( later becoming Hunter’s agent ) during a photo shoot Clayton was doing with Ann Blyth out at a horse ranch Tab worked at. One thing led to another where Hunter was introduced to famed agent Henry Wilson, and he was off to the races making an immediate impact in the industry. Hunter acknowledged his acting sucked and vowed to learn and train if he was going to be in this profession. He knew all along he was gay and knew that his life depended on him hiding that fact. The documentary shows just how restrictive life was for the gay and lesbian community in the 50’s. It was something not even talked about amongst themselves. He dated a lot of starlets ( Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood included ) but it would never ever have occurred to him to discuss his sexuality with them. During the Q & A Hunter said his strong German Catholic background was all about privacy. It was a very very different time. I don’t think we realize today just how different things were then for that community.

It was great seeing the film clips from some of his movies like “The Sea Chase” “Island of Desire” ( in which his own mother said he was lousy ) “Track of the Cat” “That Kind of Woman” “Damn Yankees” etc. The film covers his relationship with Anthony Perkins and show talking heads with his contemporaries: Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, Connie Stevens, Dolores HartTAB ( III ), Clint Eastwood and our very own Robert Osborne. Hunter knew he started out as nothing but a pretty face with Warner Brothers who cashed in on him big-time by lending him out to other studios while paying him very little. I know I know, you’re thinking he didn’t get the roles that contemporaries Brando, Dean, Clift or Newman got. No. And he was totally marketed as the All-American Boy. But he did work towards getting better, even doing theatre work to wonderful reviews. He eventually wanted out of his contract with Jack Warner, and watched the machine go into high gear to promote with new kid on the block: Troy Donahue.

I really enjoyed the film and saw the machinery it took for the studios to create and protect their commodity. Tab Hunter was introduced to the audience with a standing ovation. First let me gush. He is 84 years old and ruggedly handsome. His memory is sharp and he is as clear as a bell. I can’t explain what I mean when I say he speaks contemporarily. He speaks like a modern person of today speaks. He seems like a very kind, gentle spirit. He knows the reality of The Business and suffered hard knocks from it, but doesn’t seem to hold a grudge. When the floor was opened to questions, I managed to get some in:

( 1. )  Who was his favorite actress to work with?
Geraldine Page. He did a Playhouse 90 with her.

( 2. )  Would you ever consider coming back into films?
No, not unless Clint Eastwood asked him.

( 3. )  How was it doing all those love scenes with actresses, like Sophia Loren?
“Sophia Loren? Who wouldn’t want to kiss Sophia Loren?!!!”

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Tab Hunter and film’s producer Allan Glaser ( Hunter’s partner of thirty years )

I enjoyed the film a lot, and the actor even more. He’s so unassuming, gentle, genuine. And yes…ruggedly handsome. ( I’ve gotta go there. ) Producer Glaser said it took a lot for him to convince Tab Hunter to write a book about his life and do the documentary. Hunter was private. His movie career was another lifetime, and he was totally content to be forgotten. He made a place for himself in classic films of the 50’s. I urge you to see the documentary. He really shouldn’t be forgotten.

Here is a brief excerpt I filmed of his interview:

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18 thoughts on “TAB HUNTER

  1. On New Year’s Eve 1963, Muriel and I saw Mr. Hunter supporting Tallulah Bankhead in one of seven performances of Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, later filmed as Boom. Also in the cast were Ruth Ford, Marian Seldes, and Robert Hooks. Tony Richardson directed. It was an event designed to present Tallulah pulling out all the stops, and she did. The rest of the cast, including Tab, were more subtly effective. If there was another woman in the audience, I didn’t see her.

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    • It’s so funny you mention this play, Bob. Tab Hunter brought this up specifically for Tallulah Bankhead. He said she was a hoot and the play closed quickly ( he said three performances ). Even with its brief run he loved the chance at rehearsals with Bankhead. He also gave a praise to the late Marian Seldes who got an appreciative applause from the packed crowd at the Village East. ( Hey…Robert Hooks! Remember him?! ) Bob, you and I always talk about classic movies…I must sit one day and listen to your tales of the theatre. Thanks for reading.

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  2. I saw Hunter at an event promoting the book a few years ago and got him to sign my copy. He was very nice and very gracious. I look forward to seeing the movie. I have a bad cold right now, but I hope it’s still playing when I get better. There are still a lot of his ’50s movies I haven’t seen and am curious about, e.g. the western, THE BURNING HILLS, and the aviation pic, LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE. I recorded it off TCM, but still haven’t seen GUNMAN’S WALK directed by Phil Karlson, one of the few films Hunter is proud of. What am I waiting for?!

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    • Thanx BNOIR. Tab Hunter DID address John Waters and Divine in the documentary. He said he had a blast. And during the Q & A he said he loved kissing a “well-rounded woman” like Divine. I’m telling you…Tab Hunter was a great interview! Thanks for reading!

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  3. Thanks for info on this documentary which I didnt know about. Hope it it gets a wide showing. Would love to see it.

    And well done, getting to ask some questions!

    I didn’t know Tab had his own TV show in 1960 which ran for 32 episodes. Couldnt find any episodes on You Tube . Jerome Cowan and Richard Erdman costarred.

    I liked Tab in Damn Yankees , The Sea Chase and Gunman’s Walk. I never understood why his successful career in Hollywood didn’t continue in the 60s.

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    • Vienna, you really have to look for it if the film gets a wide release. It truly is interesting and we get a glimpse into another America. America in the 1950’s was no joke if you didn’t conform. The documentary showed a clip from his tv show and I saw good ol’ Jerome Cowan. He really liked his work in “Gunman’s Walk.” It’s funny. I know Tab Hunter. I’ve seen a couple of his films, but seeing him in the documentary and the story behind his life on film really made me appreciate him. Warners wanted to really start putting him in crap and he bought out his contract for $100K just as the studio system was starting to crumble. You must hear him speak – he’s very knowledgeable about what was going down in the industry at the time. Thank you sooo much for stopping by!

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  4. I just watched my first movie with Tab Hunter in it – “Battle Cry” (1955). I was watching it for Aldo Ray though… Tab sure is good looking too though!

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    • Ahhhhh Tab. He was absolutely gorgeous. And his looks prevented folks from taking him seriously. ( His acting got better the longer he was in films ). After seeing the documentary on Sunday Phyllis, I have to revisit his films. ( As for Aldo Ray…yeh. Momma like ).

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  5. That voice! It is unmistakable.

    I have a great admiration for those who take advantage of their opportunities. Tab learned to be a fine actor. A double bill of “Gunman’s Walk” as a narcissistic psychopath and “Damn Yankees!” as the middle-aged man transformed into a baseball hero should be enough to convince anyone.

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